Starting Thursday, Metro Transit riders will be able to use their smartphones to pay bus and rail fares.
Train and bus riders who download the Metro Transit App from either the Google Play or Apple iTunes app store also will be able to access schedules and route maps, plan trips and get real-time bus and train arrival and departure times.
Customers can use credit cards or funds deposited into a PayPal account to buy electronic tickets they can display on their phone and show a bus driver or police officer checking fares on the Blue Line, Green Line or Northstar Commuter line that they have paid for their ride.
The app won’t replace the popular Go-To cards or Metropasses, which are used by more than 55 percent of riders. But it is aimed at making transit a more convenient and appealing option for the occasional riders who may not carry cash, visitors and those who take a bus or train only when heading to special events such as Sunday’s Vikings-Lions game at U.S. Bank Stadium, said Adam Mehl, marketing department specialist.
“It gives access to the bus system to those who have not had it before,” said Mehl, who has been working with the Portland-based contractor Moovel to develop the app. “We hope people will ride spontaneously. They’ll look at this and say, ‘I can grab it [the bus or train] right here, pay for my ticket and hop on.’ ”
While the app will make it easier to pay fares, it won’t necessarily be cheaper. At the outset, the app will only offer a weekday fare of $2.25 good for rides taken between 2 a.m. Mondays and 6:30 p.m. Fridays and a weekend fare of $1.75 for rides taken between 6:30 p.m. Fridays and 2 a.m. Mondays. There also is a special rate for youths and seniors and an option to buy a day pass, which allows for unlimited rides from the time the $4.50-pass is purchased until 2 a.m. the next day.
That differs from current fare structure, in which riders pay $1.75 for all trips taken on weekends and weekdays during nonpeak periods and $2.25 during rush hours.
The app also requires a minimum purchase of $4.50 per transaction, the equivalent of two regular-priced rides.
However, the app will provide convenience as it will make it easier for customers who can’t afford to put money on a prepaid card or don’t have a credit card they can use to buy tickets at vending machines, Mehl said.
“We try to listen to the riders and make it easier for them,” said spokesman Howie Padilla.
App likely to expand
Metro Transit joins systems such as those in Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland in offering the pay-by-phone service. Currently nearly three out of every four visits to Metro Transit’s websites are from mobile devices, and 16 percent of fares are purchased online.
Another benefit of the app that has been in development for more than a year, and paid for through a federal grant, is that it could speed up the boarding process by 3 to 6 seconds per rider. It also will cut costs for processing cash fares, which costs Metro Transit about 10 percent of what it takes in at the fare box, Mehl said.
Future editions of the app are on the drawing board and will allow riders to use their phones to explore carpooling options, report suspicious activity or summon help by sending text messages to Metro Transit police.
With the rollout of the app, Metro Transit continues to integrate technology into its system. Over the past year, Metro Transit has introduced a texting service allowing riders to punch in their stop number and get real-time information about when their bus will arrive. Directions for using the service appear on signs that have been installed at nearly 5,000 bus stops and eventually will be expanded to include all 13,000 stops across the system.
In September, riders used the Bus Stop ID program 47,800 times, up from 26,000 in August and 200 in June 2015 when the service debuted as part of the agency’s efforts to build better bus stops.
“It’s about getting more relevant information to our customers at the bus stop level,” said General Manager Brian Lamb. “It reinforces that what customers really want is updated and accurate information about when their particular service is coming.”